It sounds like a joke: How do you unload 50,000 pounds of ripe heirloom tomatoes?
For City Growers, a start-up based in Roxbury, Mass. , this challenge is just another “growing pain.”
In 2010, its first year of operation, City Growers has taken over 2.5 acres of vacant land in Roxbury and Dorchester and is growing local food in raised beds of composed-enriched, clean soil. In addition to crops like lettuce, basil, eggplant, they’re growing 50,000 pounds of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes with alluring names like jet star, mountain fresh, cosmonaut volkov, mountain spring and polbig. I’ve tasted these tomatoes, and they’re luscious.
As problems go, a tomato surplus is a good one to have. Fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes go for $4 a pound or more at most farmers’ markets in the Boston area, so if the company just wanted to sell them at cost, they’d sell like, well, hot tomatoes.
But City Growers, founded by veteran local food and community activists Glynn Lloyd, Margaret Connors, and Bruce Fulford, wants to sell as many tomatoes at the market rate as possible, so they can use the proceeds to help them increase local agricultural production capacity, make affordable, healthy foods more accessible, and create green, living wage jobs.
“We’re wholesaling our tomatoes to restaurants and stores like City Feed,” co-founder Connors told me. “We also have a CSA, so some of our tomatoes are going out in the boxes each week. But we need some other ways to sell them between now and the end of October.”
One of their “canny” strategies is to sell 20 lb. boxes of tomatoes for canning or freezing sauce. For $50, you’ll get a box of just picked heirloom and hybrid varieties (enough to make 7 quarts of sauce), a canning “how to” and two tomato sauce recipes.
They’re looking for institutions like churches and temples to agree to serve as distribution points. To encourage any wannabe canners out there, they’ll be running canning workshops at the JP Forum and City Fresh Foods next month.
But with 50,000 pounds of tomatoes to unload, City Growers is going to need help from a lot of institutions and individuals. If you have any ideas or just want to buy some tomatoes, contact City Growers at 617-307-6400 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.